Today, LaVilla is known as a section of downtown that’s characterized by blighted surface parking lots and failed dreams of 1990s urban renewal. It was also once known as the “Harlem of the South”, although history suggests that Harlem should be known as the “LaVilla of the North”. Unfortunately, the bustling district’s downfall began with the construction of the Jacksonville Expressway (I-95), which was built through the center of the neighborhood.
Downtown Jacksonville’s riverfront was originally lined with wharfs. As a part of an effort to redevelop the waterfront into parking lots, Jacksonville’s wharf district was filled in, creating an extra block of land area.
In 1952, the Southbank’s watefront was characterized by marsh and shipbuilding companies. A rapidly growing Southside led to the development of multiple elevated expressways through the district. In addition, like the Northbank, portions of the river were filled in to create more land area.